APS Panel Report Assesses Nuclear Waste Storage Issues

Nuclear plant

The APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) recently released a report assessing some of the issues involved in developing one or more consolidated interim storage sites where nuclear waste could be stored until a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is opened.

Approximately 54,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at operating nuclear power plants and several decommissioned power plants throughout the country. Current storage facilities at reactor sites were not meant to be permanent, but the schedule for opening Yucca Mountain continues to slip. The federal government is incurring increasing liability costs the longer spent fuel remains at reactor sites, and there is concern that continuing to store spent fuel at power plants will make it more difficult to find sites for new nuclear power plants and to build them.

The POPA Nuclear Energy Study Group examined issues associated with the centralized interim storage of spent nuclear fuel and has issued a technical and programmatic assessment.

“We found no major technical benefit to developing a consolidated interim storage site,” said John Ahearne, one of the study group co-chairs. “There may be some programmatic benefits to a consolidated storage site,” he said.

One advantage of a consolidated storage site is that it could “relieve impediments to the growth of nuclear power,” the report says. A consolidated site would decouple the private sector nuclear power plant operators from uncertainties inherent in the federal long-term spent fuel management program, the report notes. “The assurance that spent fuel can be removed from a reactor to a storage site may reduce the difficulty in siting new plants,” the report says.

The study group determined that there are no technical barriers to long-term safe and secure interim storage either at nuclear reactor sites or at a consolidated site. “The safety and security risks associated with storage of spent fuel are not appreciably different whether the fuel is stored at plant sites or in one or more consolidated facilities,” the report states.

Even if Yucca Mountain opens as scheduled in 2017, it will take several decades to move all the currently stored spent fuel to the site. Interim storage, either at reactors or at one or more consolidated sites, will still be necessary, the study group reports. The study group also found that there is sufficient storage capacity at current nuclear reactors to hold all spent fuel for the duration of the plant licenses.

Gray arrow View the full report (pdf)

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